Words & photos by Josh Anderson
About a month ago, as Tahoe wallowed in a dry spell that would worry a Tunisian, I had the thought, "What if it doesn't snow again before the Kirkwood comp on the 24th?" How little I knew. Kirkwood received over 40 inches of snow since the Wednesday before the event, and while driving down from Squaw to Kirkwood the morning the 24th as the storm brewed in the west and the wind howled, I drank my coffee and tried to shake off the previous days' three five-hour work shifts and get my head into the game of competitive hucking. My work shirt has a slogan on the back. It says, "Ski, Eat, Drink, Sleep, Repeat." Tourists find it cheeky and fun, and laugh at the wonderful times us locals must be having Living The Dream. I usually just laugh along and pretend to agree, and proceed to Live The Dream. So I made my early morning drive to the hill, got myself all registered and proceeded out for a quick inspection of the wind-blown and plentifully fat-to-flat Vista qualifier venue.
The calm before...
It quickly became apparent that most involved in the qualifier had come to play. Massive airs to flat, plentiful backflips and some stylie 3's off of windlips, natural booters and step down cliffs were attempted and stomped. Some not so stomped. Timm Philips skied a technical billy goat line out of the start and followed it up with a huge overrotated backy to his head on firm windbuff but bounced right up and rallied through the finish…in his bangin' Descente onesie.
...came to play.
The top ten male finishers in the qualifier might as well have been skiing for the finals already. And it was well they did as this particular stop of the Freeskiing World Tour was a combo Freeride/Freeski tour with several real-deal pros like Henrik Winstedt, Guerlain Chicherit, Sverre Liljequist and JT Holmes all invited. That being the case, only 14 of the 60 contesting qualifiers moved on to day one. Among those moving on, Ben Paciotti threw a huge backflip first hit; Squaw Freeride coach Kevin O'Meara skied fast enough, and went big enough to test the tensile strength of the sickbird belt-buckle holding up his pants; young gun Eric Bryant and veteran Zack Poindexter skied hard and fast and John Parker narrowly avoided rocky disaster… and oh yeah, they're all from Squaw. But the best skier on the mountain was local Freeride Team member Josh Daiek, taking his qualifier win with a super stylie 3 tail off of one of the more bootery cliff features. I however, decided to opt for reefing out first hit, punching front, stomping one air, then punching front again, tomohawking right to a waiting sapling. So my fate as a photographer was sealed once again.
Fat to flat.
Dear me: Get it together.
Kevin O'Meara going big enough.
As the afternoon wound to a close and the first few of the wait listed competitors readied themselves at the start. Tour veteran, GNAR naked-guy and perfect gentleman Jamie Blair dropped into a similar top line as Philips, but as he progressed down the venue the wind suddenly took its own turn for the gnar and by his final air, the venue looked like this.
"That gray fuzzy looking thing is Mr. Blair about to beater in the white out."
This turn for the worse left a few guys including Duncan Adams and Willie Schneider literally out in the cold. We all definitely missed out on what might've gone down. Not to be left out in the storm, Willie came through and hooked up a room for the night just down the road at the Rockstar Lodge, a bangin' little hostel right in the valley. If you find yourself in the Wood, give master prorietor Scott a call and go kick it in the lounge or play some pingpong with drunken Cal Poly weekenders until it's time to pass out and do it again. Livin' that dream. As for my dreams, they were a little hazy but I knew what to expect with head judge Jim Jack, Omar Otte and Jeremy Nobis agreeing on a weather day Friday. I awoke expecting a powder day, but what I got was bedlam. Winds were topping out over 100 mph, visibility was next to zero, cars were buried and the lifts were still, if you don't count the violent rocking by the wind. Squaw saw a 153 mph gust that day and shut down all lifts as well. The roads out of Kirkwood were a lost cause, and were closed. This left us with a lot of time to play cards and drink beer in the day lodge, thinking about all that pow piling up. Then I got a curveball, an invite to Montana the next week and an immediate need to quit my life and jobs. The agreement I made involved driving back to Squaw the following morning under bluebird skies, away from three feet of fresh, to go stand in a restaurant and yell at people for nine hours. But I'll still have the job when I get back…living the dream.
Ehhh…not that nice, might as well go to work. At least the lift lines at Squaw were all an hour long.
The rest of the event was bluebird pow and the field of 100 competitors got right after it on Kirkwood's "forbidden" Cirque. The massive rock known as Franks' with its mandatory airs and scary exposures got sessioned so hard the main 40 foot air became almost unhittable…at least unlandable. A few though, like JT Holmes, Kevin O'Meara and Ben Paciotti opted for a even bigger air further lookers' right. At the bottom, an extremely excited O'Meara breathlessly stated he was in the air pondering putting it to his hip when "it occurred" to him that he should just stick it, so he did. Paciotti did the same, but JT went a little too big and kicked a shoe. Ryan Hawks of Mad River Glen misjudged it as well, sending an enormous frontflip into a bombhole suffering a severe spinal injury and was life flighted from the hill, the second of the day after Marja Persson tumbled over a rocky section in the womens' heat. I'm not sure how to preface this, but the Freeskiing Tour site announced today that Hawks has just passed away. I'm not sure what to write, but take a moment for another loss to the ski world and maybe just think about it next time you're out on the hill. A lot of good people have gone down in the past few years. Maybe just stop and look around, listen to the wind, take a second…
...and love life.
Female competitor Alex George was flighted out as well, all the best to her.
The competition saw a lot of great skiing however, with Guerlain Chicherit proving his general mastery of the sport, crushing airs in every direction, and Josh Daiek again stepping up in a huge way taking the win for the day. On the ladies' side Angel Collinson took the win, with Janina Kuzma and Rebecca Selig taking the second and third spots. Competitors Aaron Schmidt and Alex George took nasty spills as well, prompting much well-wishing and also a warning from Nobis about keeping control. A patroller I spoke with during day two said that one day of competition was more disastrous than the previous five years, cummulatively. It is a dangerous sport with high consequences and more personal reward than anything. It's something to remember…even when building awesome gaper traps in the ski-out through the crowd like this one.
They got the snow for the jump out of the moat you can't see behind it.
Here's some action from day one. Pardon my titles, as I've misplaced my start list. I promise to go ahead and get it together in the future, maybe.
Janette Hargin, Freeride World Tour leader.
Mat Jackson walking off of rocks and getting a sickbird squawk.
Jackson, double part 2.
It's not funny when guys like tour leader Lars Chickering Ayers tumble through rocky chokes and emerging unscathed, even when the French filmer next to you mutters "merde" over and over under his breath and proceeds to call the rider a "stupd f#*&ing idiot". Silly angry filmers.
JT Holmes, living legend.
Watch out for the paparazzi. Proooos.
Kevin O'Meara, making the right decision.
Guerlain Chicherit started CoreUPT with the power of this mute grab.
Ben Paciotti, kaw kawwwwww.
Drew Tabke gets extreme...again.
With Sunday in the bag, and day two on the horizon I booked it back to Squaw to prepare for my own adventures, which I'm now on, writing this from a diner parking lot in Elko, Nevada as time ticks away, the parking lights shut off and my arrival in wherever I go to sleep looks later and later. But with a finals including a bunch of Squaw rad-dogs and good friends, I made sure to be back in the morning, despite another afternoon work shift. Remember that thing I'm living? Yeah, the dream. Ski, eat, drink, sleep, work, drive…forget about sleep. Back in Kirkwood, the day two finals moved over to the lookers left side, starting off the very top of The Cirque. The sun shone and the wind returned but the snow was still blower and the skiing still amazing, with a field cut down to just 40. Daiek again made his mark skiing hard and fast, as did O'Meara who took second to Daiek's overall win. Squaw boys and childhood pals Mat Jackson and Ben Paciotti talked each other into being the only two to hit the massive 50-60 footer on the lookers right of the venue, and despite some major backslapping, they definitely went biggest on the day. And, while there were some hairy, scary crashes, the life flight bird got to stay on the ground for day two, for which we're all thankful. The ladies killed it, the gents killed and Angel Collinson and Josh Daiek walked away with some much deserved wins, but only local boy Daiek got huge ovations complete with fireworks and mass hugs from the crowd, as well as a Sickbird award. Check out more coverage on FWT's site and video from their Vimeo account and hit up the Rockstar Lodge if you're in the area (and no I didn't get to stay there for free, it was just that rad). Now here are some shots from the finals. Cheers to all, see you at Snowbird.
John Lange getting trenchies.
Calub Mullen lost a ski, but that's all.
Garbones, Craig Garbiel.
Ben Paciotti claims he caught a thermal up there.
Mat Jackson, lofter over all that pepper.
Oakley White-Allen styles.
Guerlain Chicherit may be a boss, but he shoulda just done a backflip here.
Crazy Viking Kevin O'Meara, "no hair, no air."
Dylan Crossman's crazy double straightline.
Josh Daiek, like a boss.